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UD's Hudson ‘transformed’ human rights studies in nine years as director

By Dave Larsen

Natalie Florea Hudson ’01 was among the first University of Dayton students to graduate with a minor in human rights. In August, she will step down after nine years as director of UD’s Human Rights Studies program.

During her tenure, Hudson established human rights studies as an independent program separate from the Department of Political Science, where it was housed when she was appointed director in 2013. She also revised the program’s curriculum, creating introductory and capstone courses, and added skills-based course requirements for students. 

“During her time as director, Natalie transformed how human rights is taught at the University and brought the program into a period of maturity,” said Joel Pruce, associate professor of human rights studies and director of applied research and learning in the UD Human Rights Center.

The University of Dayton is a pioneer in human rights education. It started the country’s first undergraduate human rights program in 1998 and offered one of the nation’s first bachelor’s degrees in human rights studies in 2008.

Hudson, professor of political science, was pre-tenured faculty when she was asked to take over the program from its founder, Mark Ensalaco.

“A large number of political science faculty were part of the program and it needed an administrative space to live at first, but eventually establishing it as an independent, interdisciplinary program was really important,” Hudson said.

Human rights studies majors and minors learn about justice and equality from legal, historical, philosophical, political and religious perspectives. They are equipped with the practical knowledge and skills needed to respond to social, economic, technological and political threats to human dignity in the U.S. and abroad.

Hudson revised the curriculum in 2019, about 10 years after it was created for the launch of the bachelor's degree program. The advocacy-oriented capstone course she created through research and focus groups was one of the first capstones under UD’s Common Academic Plan (CAP), an innovative curriculum which is shared among all undergraduate students, regardless of major.

Her introduction to human rights course, HRS 200, is offered every semester.

“It fills easily and attracts students from many majors because it meets multiple CAP requirements and I think there is general interest given UD’s culture and mission,” she said.

In February 2022, the leadership team of the School of Engineering approved a new human rights studies minor in the School of Engineering. The minor is specifically designed for engineering majors, keeping in mind their strict course requirements. It also reflects Hudson’s broader goal to expand the reach of human rights education across campus.

“It’s not necessarily about increasing the number of majors, but about how human rights education can be integrated into places like the School of Engineering,” she said.

Hudson, whose research focuses on women rights and global security at the personal and policy level, has served on the Human Rights Center’s leadership team since its inception in 2013. She spoke at the 2018 United Nations Global Citizenship Education Seminar about human rights education at UD.

She will take a sabbatical during the 2022 fall semester to work on a book project about transnational advocacy; conduct research with a colleague at the U.N. Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs; and revise her textbook, Global Politics: Applying Theory to a Complex World.

“There's no doubt that Dr. Hudson is an influential scholar with important contributions to the real well-being of women globally — through her consultations with the United Nations, her books and collaborative projects, and her published research in top journals like the Journal of Human Rights, International Studies Quarterly and the Journal of International Peacekeeping,” said Miranda Cady Hallett, associate professor of cultural anthropology.

Hallett, who has served as associate director of the Human Rights Studies program since June 2021, will succeed Hudson as director Aug. 16.

“Driven by an uncompromising vision of social transformation for human rights — with our students as the emerging leaders and supporters of collective change — Dr. Hudson's leadership leaves an admirable legacy that would be difficult to live up to for anyone,” Hallett said. “So, while I'm humbled by the prospect of filling her shoes, I'm grateful to Natalie for both her personal support and her professional example.”

For more information, visit the Human Rights Studies program website.

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